Monday, March 31, 2008

Buy More Now and Be Happy

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I watched the first film by George Lucas, THX 1138. I had never even really heard of the film before, but my girlfriend is trying to make the most of her Netflix membership before going off to med school and has an infinite queue of movies to watch. I'm sure others have made the connection between this and We before and I know it is not related to Pi or any current content, but I still found it to be very interesting.

The similarities between the movie and We were so frequent that I do not believe there is any way George Lucas could have never read We. The movie takes place in the future when the human race has apparently relocated to an underground dystopian society where sex is prohibited except for certain couples for the purpose of reproduction. The characters are identified by a string of letters as their "prefix" and then a number that follows the letters. Also, the members of the society take pills to supress their emotions and personality. Their world is constantly patrolled by faceless android policemen, reminiscent of the guardians of We, and those in violation of the rules (drug violation, unpermitted sex, etc) are usually destroyed. THX and his roommate both violate the drug laws and begin to have a relationship with each other and end up having sex illegally. After they stop taking the drugs they decide they want to escape the underground society in which they live.

I read reviews of the movie online and many found it to be boring and bleak, but I couldn't help but be drawn in simply by the similarity to We and Vas and the topics we have been discussing this semester. It really made me wonder what attracts people to these themes and topics. Why are we so interested in stories like We, 1984, and THX 1138 and what makes writers create these stories? Is it simply the fear of ending up in a society such as these, or just a desire to experience something other than our dull day to day lives?

Sarah Berhardt takes a nap in a coffin before her stage performances.

So, my title really has nothing to do with this boring post. However, it is an example of an actress (not scientist) with some odd tendencies...

I am going to treat this blog as a brainstorm for 3.1. It seems as though many groups are interested in discussing the theme of how mathematicians are depicted in books and movies, so in an effort to make our topic more specific, one idea (as discussed in class) is to focus on the techniques used to create the stereotypes.

Movies affect us far differently than books. In Pi, lighting and sound are used to emphasize Max's unstable mental condition and the physical symptoms associated with it. For example, when he is about to have one of his episodes, the music speeds up and the lighting becomes more overexposed. This makes the viewers also uncomfortable; making them experience Max's pain far differently than a book could describe it. Also, Aronofsky's choice to film in black and white (I read this was more expensive than color) was more "black or white." The scenes are either dark or extremely bright.

In the The Proof (The Nova Documentary), scenes are shot of Andrew Wiles taking walks on a wooded trail, laughing, crying, studying in his office, interacting with colleagues and family, etc. The lighting is not manipulated, and the viewers get to know his daily behaviors as well as his eccentricities. While the fact remains that he spent 7 years working in his attic, it becomes less weird as the documentary describes that his passion for the problem began at an early age.

In We, Zamyatin both exaggerates the logical nature of D-503's brain as well as describes his daily routines, sex life, and attraction toe I-330. However, D-503 never cracks a jokes, and I don't recall him laughing aside from when he almost kills U, so there is an obvious stress put on certain personality traits.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Faith in Numbers

In both Pi and We we have two protagonists who live their lives based on the logic and rationality of numbers. Yet in the both stories the characters both have faith in some unquantifiable quality that governs the world (and the universe).

In We, D-503 has unquestionable faith in the benevolent Benefactor and the One State. From D-503’s writings we get the sense that the Benefactor is the epitome of logic and rationality but in all realistic probability this probably not the case. However, D-503 and the rest of the citizens of the One State seems too blind to see it.

In Pi, Max has faith in patterns. Everything in the universe has some pattern. In his blind faith in his belief he discounts ideas of any sort of spontaneity or randomness. How can someone with such a high ability to rationalize things believe that there are no anamolies in existence? On the other hand, perhaps he is right.

To me it seems that both concepts lead to the idea of whether or not people have free will or not, a universal question that no one seems to have the answer to. If life is We and everything is ran by a system and order then people no longer become people but simply parts of a machine. Machine parts have no choice in their functions. If life is Pi then people have no free will but are simply enacting the patterns upon patterns set in motion at the beginning of time. Every person born, grow, wilt, die, born, grow, wilt, die – forever until the pattern ends.

The First Slice of Pi

I hadn’t seen Pi before so I didn’t know what to expect. So far it’s definitely a story of a crazed mathematician, a theme that seems common in a lot of literature. Hopefully we will find out why authors tend to use mathematicians in this context in our upcoming research projects.

There were a lot of things I like about Pi so far, but the main thing that jumped out at me is that Max was trying to figure out the pattern behind the stock market if there even is one. Individual consumer decisions all around the world affect the stock market so I think by trying to solve its algorithm he is subsequently trying to figure out how the world works.

One of the other things I thought about in my spare time is how the color (black & white) and the music was affecting the way I was seeing the movie. I think the black and white gives the movie some fantastical quality that I don’t think would be the same if it were in color and the electronica gives it a sort of frantic feeling. Also someone (I can’t remember who, sorry) mentioned that his computer crashed because of an ant or spider and thought it could’ve been a metaphor for a computer bug. I wondered if that was done by the film maker on purpose and if so, would there be more in the following portions of the film.

Oh and the Hebrew math thing, with the mother, father, child thing was really interesting. I don’t know anything about Hebrew at all. Does anyone have more information on this? Anyhow, those were some of my initial thoughts on Pi. I’m interested in seeing what happens next.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Just FYI


A True Irrational Number

I am not sure if anyone has touched on this in blogs posted before mine but I find it curious that the title of the movie is Pi. Max believes in the movie that everything in nature can be reasoned mathematically and math is patterns so there are patterns in nature or something along those lines but one thing that doesn’t really fit the pattern is the number pi. As an irrational number pi has a decimal expansion that continues on to infinity without following any yet noticeable pattern. I don’t remember if this ever factored into the movie but I find it kind of interesting.

I do think that patterns can be found in the universe, especially if you’re looking for them. It definitely makes it easier to find patterns if you already have something in mind to look out for, but even if you don’t I think the patterns are still there. One of the areas of math I do find interesting is fractals, which can be seen in nature in snowflakes and leaves and lightning. These things seen to have no logical pattern but when a snowflake is examined closely or the veins on a leaf the pattern clearly resembles a fractal. Maybe not everything in the universe follows logical order but if it did and someone proved it I’d be curious as to whether or not religious people would find this as proof of some god or if nonreligious would see it exactly opposite.

Living in a Nerd Paradise: Futurama

After Thursday's discussion I got to thinking about other topics of interest connecting literary analysis with mathematics. The collective mathematical knowledge of the Futurama writers is overwhleming, this website has a list.

Math is woven into Futurama's subtlest jokes. Bender's Apartment number is 00100100, which when translated into ASCII, is the $ symbol. (Click here for an entertaining binary to text translator)

There's an evolving joke centered around the Hardy-Ramanujan number, named for an anecdote in which mathematican Hardy interprets his taxi-cab # as "rather dull" and perhaps a bad omen. To which Ramjen pointed out that the number, 1729 is in fact an interesting number, as it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two positive cubes in two different ways. In the Futurama movie the number of the taxi-cab Fry rides is also a 'taxi-cab' number: 87539319 = (167)^3 + (436)^3 = (228)^3 + (423)^3 = (255)^3 + (414)^3. The full explanation of this and other 'metaphorical flexions' of the Futurama-crew's math knowledge is here.

According to David X. Cohen, co-developer of Futurama with Matt Groening, "The number on Al Gore's cab in that scene also has a secret meaning." This bit of insight is from an article from WIRED magazine about math-in-Futurama that can be read here. This article delves into the connection between Futurama writers and their audience, citing the 99% rule as: 99 percent of the audience won't get these jokes, but those that do will greatly appreciate them.

Max and D-503

When watching Pi in class, I noticed a few interesting parallels between D-503 from We and Max from the film. Both characters are troubled by irrationality and disorder. D-503 is agitated by even the thought of imaginary numbers, namely the square root of negative one. Max is adamant that patterns lie behind absolutely everything. His faith in this concept is so strong that he drives himself crazy working to discover underlying patterns in things that appear rather random. Neither character believes in a God by our popular definition. D-503 does believe in the Benefactor who Zamyatin depicts as a God-like figure to the One State, however, little faith is required in this belief. The Benefactor is a tangible person whom the One Staters see on Election Day. D-503 does not believe in a God beyond his society, and this sort of faith would be difficult for him as God is much more enigmatic than his dreaded square root of negative one. Max was raised Jewish but no longer practices any faith. His agnosticism seems possibly counterintuitive since he is constantly looking for patterns and believes everything is controlled by something greater, specifically mathematics. Both characters are mathematicians who are removed from society by their individual obsessions, Max’s being patterns and D-503’s being the world beyond the Green Wall.

Patterns Schmatterns

We talked in class about the patterns that seem to dictate Max's life. The general consensus was that patterns can be found in everything if you look for them... and that Max is fighting an uphill battle by trying to solve the stock market. It seems to me, though, that our lives are governed by patterns. Free will and conscious decision play a part but I believe the majority of our unconscious thought can be viewed as nothing more than patterns.

So are we all really as crazy as Max on a smaller scale? Everybody has something that they're passionate about... and that something more than likely has patterns that causes appeal. If you stop and think for just a moment you'll realize that your hobbies all contain certain patterns that you find intriguing. Of course we don't think about these patterns when we are in the midst of doing these activities but, nevertheless, they do exist.

The one thing I'm truly passionate about is baseball. I certainly don't have panic attacks when I think about baseball but the patterns of the game have made me absolutely obsessed with it. If I'm not playing it or watching it, I'm researching statistics and articles or playing fantasy baseball. I guess I can say that I'm "crazy"as Max is.

Making Sense of Insanity

There is a fine line between finding patterns done by educated professionals and finding patterns done by crazy people. Educated professionals such as professors work hard for years studying particular subjects especially in the field of mathematics trying to come up with a solution to a problem. This is not a form of craziness because professors have some direction in their research and they are trained and educated professionals. They are qualified, older, and respected individuals. They may seem eccentric and crazy but are not that way because the solutions they are looking to provide will solve numerous real world problems. When intelligence is combined with strong passion then it doesn’t mean that someone is crazy; they are passionate.

On the other hand, if someone with no direction were trying to make sense of something totally random, then that would seem crazy to me. Trying to understand the meaning of life, making sense of why certain colors are used around us, why certain things are the way they are, all seem crazy to me.

Always listen to your mama

Ahhhhh…another stereotypical, psychotic, mathematical genius.

Maximillian Cohen, who narrates much of the movie Pi, is going down and is going down fast. I haven’t seen the movie before our class but it is clear to me that this film is not going to end well. Pi opens with Max describing a time when he was a little boy and he stared directly at the sun, despite his mother's warnings not to. Right away it is obvious that something is majorly “off” with this guy. The director uses this story to show that even from childhood Max has a disregard for warnings. He also disregards the warning from Sol Robeson, his old mathematics mentor. Sol sees that Max is suffering from anxiety and urges Max to slow down and to take a much needed break. Max refuses to take Sol’s advice and continues with his obsession with the 216-digit number string. Max is swimming deeper and deeper into the abyss of insanity and I predict that he is going to drown at the bottom.

Poor Max. Why didn’t he just choose a happier career like law or medicine? I’m sure he knew of the insane mathematician stereotype when he made his career choice as a young adult. Oh, but wait, he didn’t listen to his mother about the sun so why would he listen to society’s warning about a poor career choice.

Poor Max.

I don’t see a happy Hollywood ending in sight.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I thought it would be funny to find patterns with the number 216.

216 is an area code in Cleveland, Ohio.

ETC-216 is a synthetic variant of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and one of several HDL targeted therapies the company is developing for patients with CHD.

There are 216 colors that are considered "browser safe."

216 is the smallest untouchable number which is also a cube
Plato's number: Plato alludes to the fact that 216 is equal to 63, where 6 is one of the numbers representing marriage since it is the product of the female 2 and the male 3. Plato was also aware of the fact the the sum of the cubes of the 3-4-5 Pythagorean triple is equal to 216
Two hundred sixteen 216 = 23*33 = 63 = 33 + 43 + 53, making it the smallest cube that's also the sum of three cubes
216 is the the number of colors in the Netscape Web-safe color palette
216 is the smallest magic product of a 3 by 3 multiplicative magic square
216 is the smallest abundant cube


and you chew an average of 216 time while eating a meal. (i just made that last one up, but who knows)

I am going to spend the next several years finding a way all of these relate and I'll let y'all know about it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

P Pa Pat Patt Patte Patter Pattern Patterns

Everything in the physical world has a pattern or is a part of a pattern. This is because the laws of physics places limits on the way things can act. For example, if I throw a ball in the air, it only has one option. It must fall. And, it does fall. Now a pattern is discovered (every thing that goes up, must come down). Patterns like this underlie everything in nature. There is a pattern to the way atoms bond together. There is a pattern to the way birds migrate.

One might say that this is not always true. One might bring up quantum physics. They might say that some things are impossible to have certainty about. A lot of things can only be gotten at by probability and statistics. But both probability and statistics are built on the assumption that things run in patterns. A random variable has no meaning if there is not a pattern in its nature. Look at the binomial count random variable when flipping a coin (# of heads). If we flip it 1000 times, we can expect to get nearly 500 heads. Increasing the number of flips will make the proportion of heads grow closer and closer to .5. Is this not a pattern? It is known as the law of large numbers. Ask the owner of a casino if he believes there is a pattern to the random variables that govern the gambling games that are played in the casino. Casinos wouldn't exist if patterns didn't exist in the realm of probability.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Operatic Romance

I really know nothing about operas, except that they include men and women of exemplary talent singing, often in a language I cannot understand, or at least in a pitch I cannot understand. But the concept of an opera must be critical to an understanding of VAS, because after all, it is called An Opera in Flatland. It’s been a while since I read Flatland, but its subtitle is along the same lines: A Romance in Flatland. Therefore I deduce that the romantic aspects of the novel are of some importance, although the relationship between Square and Circle comes across as strained and monotonous throughout VAS. Even during the Opera, the ending crescendo of the novel, encompassing the themes and images of the book and Square’s flittering psyche, Circle is described as bored and unmoved. Maybe Square’s ultimate decision to go through with the procedure makes this a romance, an ode to his devotion in light of his conflict.

But my friend did tell me that Operas tend to be tragedies, (Shakespearean definition) often ending in suicides, but always include a theme of love. Perhaps a tragic aspect comes into the story with the burial of the antiquated culture of the past (Mother’s time), or the loss of Square’s ‘old body’. I would be inclined to believe that the romance between Circle and Square is real if shadowed by unresolved tension, but still there is a part of me that sees the title, and its suggestion of romance a bit ironic.

Effect of Language on Color Perception

"When infant eyes absorb a world of virgin visions, colors are processed purely, in a pre-linguistic parts of the brain. As adults, colors are processed in the brain's language centers, refracted by the concepts we have for them.

How does that switch take place? And does it affect our subjective experience of color? Such tantalizing questions, their answers still unknown, are raised by this developmental shift in color categorization, described today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Link to Wired Article

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

technology is natural

One major theme in this book is nature vs. technology -- which is to say pro life vs. pro choice... in more of a sense than just abortions (also vivisections and life support for people in comas, etc.). But I say that these kinds of technology ARE natural. We obviously feel a need to have such technologies or we wouldn't have thought them up and improved on them. There is a "natural", innate need within us at this moment in our evolution to stop certain babies from being born and to improve on the quality of the genes being reproduced. People have a problem with it because it is new and we don't really know if using these technologies is the "right" thing to do. But we have a population problem. If something does not change soon there's gonna be problems. If pro-lifers out there win out, there's going to be more suffering in the world than otherwise. Not only are these babies going to be born into families that don't want them for whatever reason, or born with deformities or mental conditions but they are just adding to our ever increasing population -- which would eventually cause shortages in food and other vital resources for EVERYONE. I mean killing a few cells before they reach a certain maturity is nothing compared to the amount of suffering they might endure/help cause. Abortions, vivisections, screening are all "natural" consequences of an evolutionary problem we face. And if morality is your problem, these are much better than simply "tossing out" new borns like they used to do a couple thousand years ago -- which is the same as what many organisms do -- kill their deformed babies. It is a combination of our innate sense of morality and the evolutionary need to control the quality and quantity of our population that has led to these technologies.

The Two Flatlands

I was thinking today about Abbot’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Diminsions, and the similarities and differences between Abbot’s imaginary world and that of Tomasula. Both novels are social commentaries of sorts, with strikingly similar arguments. Abbot illustrates the naïve nature of Flatlanders and their incapability of imagining a third dimension or the benefits of a different social structure. Tomasula quotes Goethe’s assertion that we are “the organs of [our] century, which operate mainly unconsciously,” to open his novel. Abbot goes very in depth in his description of how we, in the third dimension, should visualize his Flatland. He also vividly illustrates how Flatlanders perceive each other and how this is different than our perception of them. Tomasula uses the setting of Flatland mostly as a rhetorical device. It is apparent that Square, Circle and Oval are not physically limited in two dimensions as the characters are in Abbot’s novel. However they are still driven by their society, which I believe is Tomasula’s main point in Vas. With continued advancements in science, it has become increasingly more difficult for the characters in Vas to maintain the same ethics as in the past. I believe that the characters in Abbot’s Flatland are products of their dimension, while those of Tomasula’s Flatland are products of their generation, all of which are ruled by limitations.

Evolution of Language and Society

I find the connection that Vas makes between the evolution of language and the changing views of society very interesting. I was exploring this connection writing assignment 2.1 and I thought I would share some of the thoughts I had about it. I was looking mainly at the fold out page near the beginning of the book and the way it explores this connection. It seems to connect the difficulty square has in expressing what he wants to express in his story with the evolution of language itself. This is kind of summed up on the fold out page when it says "If it's in the language, it's in the thoughts." It's suggesting that the language of a society directly affects how people think. When Square is trying to write his story, it's sometimes difficult for him to express exactly what he's thinking since his language often represents the ideas of the society as a whole and is not necessarily ideally suited to expressing the thoughts of a particular person. This might be related to why so many great writers are known for their unique style of using the language to express themselves very clearly.

This is Circle's Story (Part II)

Alright so I hope you guys checked out Part I! The second part of this blog revolves around all the more “abstract” portions of the book. Again, I think they all for the most part relate to the biological purpose of life, which is to survive and reproduce.

Some random examples:

Real-life Barbie (p.260): Sure there are some cultural and psychological reasons as to why she wanted to make herself look like Barbie (a common standard of feminine physical attractiveness even if she is just a doll), but a simple common sense fact is that physically attractive women have a better chance of passing on their genes than an ugly woman. Not only that, but women being the mate selectors of our species and men placing such a high value on beauty, now she has access to men with more status, money, etc who are willing to exchange these survival values to mate with her.

The list of extinct languages (sorry I couldn’t find the page number): Survival of the fittest. The languages that displayed the most adaptive value and spread to the most people survived and the ones that didn’t are now extinct. “Old words die out” (p.103)

Ok so now to tie it all together. All the random information about mollusks, and beauty pageants, and eugenics, etc relate to the story and in context to the idea that humans are in a way starting to be able to control their own evolution. We are able to abort off spring that display some genetic or “undesirable” abnormality, we are able to make ourselves more attractive and increase our chances for reproductive success, and we are able to purposefully sterilize people among many other things. From my perspective Tomasula is showing that through time and technology, essentially we will be to consciously select the ACGT’s of our species, and I think Circle’s story relates to all of these ideas in one way or another.

This is Circle's Story (Part I)

Disclamer: This is me trying to make connections between the story and the more abstract text of the novel. I'm not saying that my way of interpreting is the "right" or only way, but I just wanted to share some of my ideas with you guys and see where you might agree or disagree with my theories.

Ok, so this is my (first) attempt to make sense of VAS (in 400 words or less). Even though Square is the protagonist of the novel, I think everything is actually centered around Circle.

I think I’ll try to start with the biological purpose of life – to survive and reproduce. Circle had Oval – reproductive mission accomplished, but she’s also had a miscarriage and C-section (I think). She’s also had an abortion so now, being fed up, she says it’s “Squares turn.” Why? Because at her age, getting pregnant would be a serious survival risk to her and the baby. Not to mention financial and emotional pressure that goes along with raising a child. All this together threatens her ability to survive and live comfortably.

What does this have to do with Square?

Well simply because Circle is the bread-winner(main provider) of the household therefore most likely giving her the most survival value in the house. It would be relatively more difficult for Square to secure food, water and shelter and almost impossible for Oval without Circle’s financial assets. Secondly, she already has passed on her genes, so she no longer needs Square’s reproductive contribution. She could just as easily have a procedure to keep her from getting pregnant again but since she makes the most money she gets to make the most decisions and Square goes under the knife. (I’m aware there are lot of holes in my theory already but hopefully some of you are kind of catching on to what I’m getting at).

Mother also plays a biological function trying to push Square and Circle to have more children. If Oval for some reason dies Circle does not pass on her genes and therefore does not pass on mother’s genes – the biological purpose of life. So essentially Circle is the key to the story.

To Be Continued...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sterilization quotes

The issue of steralization brought about by Tomasula's style regards who to steralize, and how far it should be taken and who get to make that decision. "It would not be difficult for governments to add something to the food supply which would prevent procreation [...] and only people whose procreation [was] desired could reveive" an antidote "which would counteract the effects" (Tomasula 125). This "sterilization [is] like a vaccination" for people who "failed an IQ test" (Tamasula 122). But where do you draw the line? Do you vaccinate "epileptics...and the antisocial: unwed mothers, prostitutes, alcoholics, the sexually promiscuous, petty criminas" and so on (Tomasula 122)? "Mensa members advocated the extermination of the homeless, retarded and elderly" (Tomasula 130). Now there is a new line drawn dealing with extermination instead of vaccination. These Mensa members, ironically, are "a society of genuises" "says an IQ test" (Tomasula 124). It seems that Mensa is "see[ing] the entire world through the lens of their specializaions" which they might think is the best way (Tomasula 136). Tomasula's style of putting facts next to images and next to ideas constantly forces the reader to pound through questions about where society is heading. These add to the ultimate themes of eugenics and brings up questions addressed throughout the book.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

VAS as a whole

After finishing VAS, I realized that the main storyline of Circle & Square and "Square getting his vasectomy" was what remained with me. The facts throughout the novel about languages, beauty, genetics, etc. were very interesting but I wish there was a more explicit relation to the main storyline. I'm really glad for the discussions in class because without them I would have overlooked a lot of little details in the graphics and beyond the main story. I feel like I learned a lot and was moved but in an very unconventional way. It was disturbing. I didn't like the randomness in the novel.

What would be great would be a "solutions manual" for VAS where unapparent relations to the main storyline would be made clear. It would defeat the exercise of finding meaning for ourselves from the novel but it would be a relief for those who seem totally lost.